Forest Sangha Newsletter April 1993

Luang Por Chah's Funeral; Ajahn Sucitto
Reflections on Luang Por Chah's Funeral; Sangha
The Lotus Falls Silent; Sister Candasiri
The Still Point of Change; Amaravati Community


The Lotus Falls Silent

Sister Uppalamuni (1902-1993) died a most remarkable death. On the morning of February 6th, the full moon day, the nuns community and several Bhikkhus stood around her bedside in the nuns' vihara chanting the Four Brahma Viharas. Just as we finished, she breathed her last. She had been an anagarika at Amaravati, faithfully cared for by the nuns for the last eight years, and had received her new name, 'The Silent Sagely Lotus', with her Siladhara Going Forth in December of last year. Sister Candasiri shares some intimate memories of the nuns' life with Sister 'Uppala'.

When she was 60, Sister Uppala discovered Buddhism in a book in the local library, and never looked back. It was this teaching that enabled her life, which was beset by severe and chronic mental instability, to be transformed into something of beauty which brought joy into all of our lives. She practised initially under the guidance of Ven. Kapilavaddho and at one time, when support was badly needed, she sold her grand piano (having been a concert pianist) to enable him to continue living in London.

What you know, you know. What you don't know, you don't know. That's all.

Her generosity knew no bounds. It came to be referred to as 'Uppala's fun'. Every birthday was noted in her diary, and a card would appear, 'Venerable Sir, (or Ayya so and so), please may I have the pleasure of making an offering. Think of something really special ...' And visitors to her room would be greeted with, "What may I offer you?" and she would list the refreshments in her cupboard. She called it "Maravati", the realm of temptation!
Life was not easy for Sister Uppala, but her immense devotion to the Triple Gem and determination to practise had the power to rally support from all directions to carry her through the more difficult moments. Until her final year she would attend every puja. On dark winter evenings and mornings, her bowed figure enveloped in a white cape would be a familiar sight walking along the pathways with her "taxi" (as she called the person accompanying her), the wavering torch beam lighting the way. In the rain we'd carry an umbrella - "But you keep it over you, I have a radiator in my room to dry my cloak."

Through practice we come to see that each of us manifests simply as a set of ever-changing conditions. Sister Uppala was no exception: the melodramatic, tyrannical: 'FIND an anagarika to take this letter to Luang Por IMMEDIATELY'! (whether it was daytime or midnight was of no consequence); the tortured, crazy: 'What can I do about these alien energies which have nothing to do with my life as a Buddhist nun?'; the humble unassuming: 'Please, are there any corrections, any ticking off, any advice about practice?'; the mischievous: 'Let's see if there are any good biscuits in that tin!'; and the wise: 'What you know, you know. What you don't know, you don't know. That's all.'

Ajahn Sundara helping Sister Uppala to the evening puja.
She came. We cared for her. At times she drove each of us to the point of total exasperation, but the more we gave, the more we received - I guess that's how it is with Dhamma ... Thank you, Sister - and goodbye!

Sister Uppalamuni's funeral
Sister Uppalamuni's body was laid out in the centre of the old nun's shrine room which was redecorated with a large golden Buddha, flowers, candles and all her favourite pictures and holy objects. The candles and incense burned constantly as we gathered frequently to chant for her, to sit with her body, to meditate, contemplate death and actually witness the body's transformation.

Arrangements were made for a funeral at Amaravati which included making the coffin and digging the grave between two yew trees in the Buddha Grove. Many friends gathered with the community and processed to the grave side chanting as the nuns carried the body and lowered it into the earth. Wreaths of flowers were laid and we each took turns filling in the grave. After the ceremony, we listened to reflections and memories about her including some of the poetry that she had written in her early years.



The nuns lowering Sister Uppalamuni's coffin; February 1993